The last time I wrote about the stretch of long-distance-hiking I’m currently doing (I still don’t feel like I can call it a pilgrimage, I’m after all not hoping to find God on the way) I was a few hundred kilometers from where I’m now. It sounds strange, but the kilometers, when your feet aren’t hurting anymore, add up without you noticing them, and in a few days you’ve done a hundred more. But you quickly learn they are absolutely not a reliable way to measure difficulty, or effort, and even less distance, and that the ones you do early in the morning, watching the sun rise over fields, in absolute quietness not only seem but probably are much shorter than the last ones of the day, under a burning heat, on paved roads. So let’s not talk of kilometers anymore.
The landscape is still nice, less impressive than the Aubrac region, with its austere beauty, and sometimes rather dull (or, as another pilgrim told me, “meditation-friendly”, – by which you should understand: there’s not much to distract you from your thoughts or your blisters) with corn fields and cow fields and no hill in sight. (That, I’m aware, is a Swiss biais, as I would definitely prefer any hill climb, be it devilishly steep, to a walk on a flat road anywhere. Don’t worry, I’ve expressed that opinion on the way and have been repeatedly struck by walking poles). But it remains: I don’t like tarred or paved roads, they are much too hard to walk on, they have french-driven (equals fast) cars on them and no charm at all. So, some days have been a bit…unattractive. And call me a profane pessimist but I don’t think you absolutely need a boring landscape to meditate.
Anyway, the small villages, country churches and the few towns on the way are still lovely. And mostly, the people provide well enough distraction, should you need one. I’ve met a lot of interesting ones, some you meet for 5 minutes on a lunch break, others you end up walking with for days, and – and I should maybe state a disclaimer here, so that you aren’t put of with the whole idea – some of them are lovely, absolutely rational people (I’ve met a couple from the Basque country with a dark, self depreciating humour who loved drinking wine while debating on atheism and politics with a retired french teacher, some very discreet and polite retirees, university students and farmers who had decided to go on a break to discover the country so keep them in mind for the following minutes). I’ve also met a woman who was conviced to be the reincarnation of a Korean warrior (who had died from a combat wound to the shoulder, which explained why her (or their combined)shoulder hurt when she was carrying her backback). I’ve met a young (and rather lonely) french guy who was explicitely doing this stretch of the way to find the love of his life, was rather conviced I was the one (despite all the ways I could think of to express him my lack of interest), and sang songs for two hours straight about spirits, sitting just behind the (closed) door to my room. I’ve met a German guy who spoke not a single world in French but found the French stupid because they didn’t understand him. I’ve met countless very charming people who, upon learning I was a doctor, took pains to convince me that Western medicine gets everything wrong and that I should go and study acupuncture/herbal medicine/digestive medicine (don’t know what it is either, and yet I’ve had a full exposé on it)/ spiritual healing and so many others I will stop the list here. In short, you don’t stand a chance at boredom, you’ll meet colorful, if somewhat “illuminé” people (a pilgrim from Zurich asked me what the term was and, when I had explained it meant something along the lines of “nice, but ever slightly lunatic”, started a game of diagnosis consisting in hearing a person talk for a while then turn to me and say, with a hopeful smile, “Would you say this one was “illuminé”(en français dans le texte)?
Well, literaly, it does mean lit and I would say they have lit up my days – with the exception of the singing serial bachelor, this one I could have done without (and slept far better).